Factoring COVID-19 into the complex dynamic onboarding process


Sian Thurtell | Chief Operating Officer | KBC Health & Safety | mail me |  

COVID-19 has brought another dynamic in managing the safety of employees on-site and has further complicated the process of onboarding. Clients now need to implement comprehensive back-to-work plans in order to quickly identify high-risk individuals, and those who have recently travelled in so-called ‘hotspots’.

Furthermore, COVID-19 screening and testing needs to happen prior to arrival on-site. This means extensive testing stations need to be made available and the volumes carefully managed so as not to cause the virus to spread further.

It does not stop there. Once screened and tested, should an individual test positive, they then need to isolate immediately. Replacement resources then need to start the onboarding process again.

Providing a safe working environment

We have received numerous requests from clients to assist them in setting up mobile clinics to administer testing or simply to provide nursing staff to be placed at their clinics or hospitals.

There is also a great need for COVID-19 support staff to assist those employees who have tested positive. We have been instrumental in providing these staffing options to assist some of our mining clients. From there ongoing monitoring and enforcement of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) regulations and protocols on-site are critical, to ensure that they are fully compliant and providing a safe working environment.

It has been a huge learning curve for us, and each day still is. I must say our partner group was really put to the test when the first regulations were rolled out in March 2020. We tackled the regulations as a team, and obtained legal advice as to how this affected us and how best to approach this new challenge.

For example, Lesley Young was instrumental in quickly updating the operational policies and procedures so as to comply with the DMA.

The biggest challenge was experienced at our branches, where we have high volumes. A 50% reduction in classroom sizes based on social distancing measures had to be implemented, all while still managing client demands, which sometimes involved finding alternative training venues.

This increased our cost base, but allowed for us to not let our clients down. Managing the safety of our employees and clients is paramount. We are constantly looking at ways to improve on our operational procedures to ensure we minimise exposure and not disrupt our business and that of our clients’ business operations.

The role of digitisation

When the initial hard lockdown came into effect, we immediately started adapting our existing digital tools.

We knew that it was going to be a challenge to house the same volumes as we did prior to the COVID-19 regulations, so we had to adapt fast and we have always offered computer-based training for some of our higher-level courses.

However, we needed to be more creative around the delivery of courses, tackling potential computer literacy obstacles, and the fact that much of its target audience does not have access to Wi-Fi.

Our innovation team adapted and converted a number of its facilitator-led training programs into eLearning courses, giving the client an option to complete the training online and then, for Safety Induction Courses, simply book a slot to visit a branch to complete the assessment. This limits the time an individual needs to be on a our site, and staggers the number of individuals at our branch on a given day.

Another tool used was to conduct virtual training via Microsoft Teams. Handouts were converted to interactive PDFs, and facilitators were equipped with the necessary skills to adapt to virtual facilitation, which allowed the client to sit at home and ‘tune in’ to the virtual classroom. We are seeing an increased demand for this type of training.

However, adding technology into such a mix can cause its own problems. I completely agree. Online learning is not always the answer. We have had to take the approach to insist on classroom learning for the workforce level that requires face-to-face engagement with the facilitator to ensure that they grasp certain concepts and retain the knowledge they need to apply when on-site.

Online learner experience and etiquette

It is crucial that we do not comprise the learner experience, and that we create an environment conducive to learning and knowledge retention.

Our facilitators themselves have had to undergo virtual ‘Train the Trainer’ workshops to properly equip them to conduct this type of training methodology with the appropriate online etiquette.

While our training material is certainly industry-specific, not only does it get its content reviewed by legal advisors well-versed in either the Mine Health and Safety Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act, it also customises its material alongside a subject matter expert. This is then reviewed by the clients in the respective industries.

Here clients have an opportunity to provide input, which the innovation team then incorporates to ensure a well-designed training program that stimulates delegate engagement and learning.

In conclusion

Although typical onboarding timelines differ from site to site, a recent Gap Analysis completed for a client identified that, with COVID-19 screening and testing, an additional 20 days was added to the onboarding process.

In this particular case, the client was struggling with the number of bookings, and there was a waiting list for individuals to undergo the necessary testing and screening.

As for a final encouragement to our clients during this unprecedented period, lean on us during this time. We will always work around the clock to ensure that we can deliver solutions that best fit your needs.

Together we will get through this. All businesses can focus on now is adapting to the ‘new normal’ and ensuring that the safety of our employees remains our first priority.



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